WellSpan York awaits federal strike team to assist with COVID-19 hospitalizations 

A strike team approved by the Biden administration is set to arrive at WellSpan York Hospital on Jan. 3 to help the hospital and its Emergency Medical Services increase hospital capacity amid continued spikes in COVID-19 cases. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced on Wednesday that the federal government identified hospitals in York and Scranton to receive help through a strike team being deployed to the two cities in early January. 

The strike teams, part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are expected to stay in Pennsylvania for 30 days, where they will help Scranton Regional Hospital and WellSpan York increase acute care capacity by opening approximately 30 additional acute care beds between the two locations. 

The teams will also increase general medical and surgical beds for COVID-19 positive patients. Separate EMS strike teams will be deployed in York and Scranton to support the increased hospital capacity. 

“This federal support will help alleviate pressure felt throughout the health system so there is more capacity to treat people who need hospital care,” said Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. “We will continue to work with our county emergency managers to ensure needed resources are met on a local level throughout the commonwealth.” 

On Tuesday, the health department announced that between Monday, Dec. 20, and Sunday, Dec. 26, the daily average number of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania was 9,979. During that week, the number of vaccines administered was down 31.1% from the previous week. 

COVID-19 positive cases began to spike in Pennsylvania at the end of November, reaching as high as 14,657 on Dec. 27—the highest number of same-day COVID-19 cases yet.

That spike has been felt by WellSpan Health, which has been caring for the highest number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients at one time since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We are fortunate that a team of clinical resources will be deployed from FEMA to support patient care across the system,” WellSpan wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “​We look forward to learning more about the deployment in the coming days and preparing for the team’s arrival. “

PAM Health acquires 16 specialty hospitals from Curahealth 

Enola-based health care services company PAM Health, formerly Post Acute Medical, acquired 16 specialty hospitals from Curahealth and Nautic Partners. 

PAM Health operates 60 long-term, acute-care hospitals and inpatient medical rehabilitation hospitals across 17 states. The new acquisition adds eight long-term, acute-care hospitals and eight inpatient rehabilitation hospitals to the company’s portfolio. 

The hospitals are in Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Indiana, Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. They are expected to provide growth and strategic opportunities, according to the company, which said it will continue to employ many key staff members from the Curahealth organization. 

“We look forward to adding these hospitals to our existing network of specialty hospitals,” says Anthony Misitano, chairman and CEO of PAM Health. “Several of the hospitals are in new markets for us, which allows us to expand the PAM Health network of care into new regions to better serve patients and families in those areas. We are confident they will provide strong opportunities for future growth, as we respond to each community’s need for healthcare services – a need that is increasing in the current healthcare environment.” 

PAM Health intends to rename the hospitals under the company’s new branding. 

Pa hospitals added $155 billion to the economy in 2020, but industry lost money 

Pennsylvania’s hospitals generated $155 billion in economic activity in 2020, while taking a $6.5 billion loss, according to a recent report by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP).

Blame the pandemic. COVID-19-related costs, such as staffing, testing and supplies, coupled with a statewide month-long ban on elective surgeries, created what HAP President and CEO Andy Carter called a “staggering hit in a single period of time.”

The pandemic-related costs accounted for a significant drop in operating margins for general acute care hospitals in the state, with margins dropping from 5.6% in 2019, to 3.7% in 2020. The trend is a frightening one given that Pennsylvania’s 65-and-older population is expected to increase by 66.4% between 2010 and 2040, said Carter.

“That is no time to go in the wrong direction with the investments it takes to meet the demand of an aging population,” he said. “Building the workforce of the future, building the pipelines, putting people in the right jobs with the right skills, all of that requires financially stable entities. We want people to see that there is this shadow arising of declining margins on the horizon.”

Last year’s pause on elective surgeries not only impacted margins and revenue expectations but also had a severe impact on patients. One example Carter saw among HAP’s membership was directly related to that pause.

“In a 30-day period they saw a higher number of obstructed bowel cases that needed emergency surgery… than they did in the last ten years,” he said.

Despite the loss, hospital spending accounted for about 20% of the commonwealth’s total gross domestic product, totaling $155 billion in economic activity, according to the report.

HAP’s annual economic impact report uses data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ fiscal year 2020 Hospital Cost Report Information System and other published sources.

The report’s $155 billion data point can be split between $69.8 billion in direct impact, or the dollars hospitals pay out for employee salaries, wages, benefits and goods and services needed to provide health care services; and $85.9 billion in ripple impact — the additional economic activity that results from the circulation of hospital dollars.

The hospital community also supported more than 615,000 jobs — one in nine statewide — and generated more than $38 billion in wages, salaries and benefits.

Health careers rising
Health care careers have been on an upward trajectory for years in Pennsylvania. The report noted that from 2008 to 2019, health care and social assistance sector jobs rose 18.3%, according to a report by Penn State’s Center for Economic and Community Development. The state Department of Labor and Industry expects that to continue to expand by 13.3% into 2028.

“While this overall economic impact growth could lead a skeptic to say that this is an industry whose growth rate is too much, that is only a risk if we aren’t generating increased productivity and value for the economy,” said Carter.

Hospital contributions to the economy in 2020 were largest in the Southeast, including Philadelphia, with the region’s hospitals spending $43 billion in 2020. Second largest was the Southwest, including Pittsburgh, at $20 billion. South Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley were third and fourth at $13 billion and $9 billion respectively.

2020’s economic impact as listed in the report is a $12 billion increase from 2019’s overall economic contribution. The report does not detail what could have been the cause for that growth, but one reason could be the spending hospitals did to keep up with increases in patients and telemedicine services allowed to them by the stripping of hundreds of health care regulations.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill extending nearly 500 waived and suspended regulations into next year. The regulations, last extended in June, allowed health care providers to expand telehealth services, increase vaccine access, quickly alter their facilities for influxes of patients and more.

“We were among many advocacy groups of the extension of those flexibility and wavers,” said Carter. “We would like to see many of those flexibilities adopted indefinitely particularly around telehealth.”